Why does my dog…?
We fall in love with our canine companions for their lovable quirks. Let’s face it – wagging tails, affectionate licks and the entertaining ability to ravage a new toy in seconds, can make us smile. You also instinctively know when all is not well – a limp tail, trembles and excessive sneezing can all be cause for concern.
Dogs have their own special ways of communicating, whether it’s showing joy or making us aware if they don’t feel well. Pinpointing exactly how your pet feels can be difficult.
If you’ve always wondered why your dog behaves in a certain way, or are worrying something just isn’t right, we’re here to answer the common question: “Why does my dog….?”
After a long walk or day away from your pet, you may receive slobbery licks. Dogs lick members of their pack (and themselves) for various reasons. Here’s a few:
- Affection – licking a loved one releases endorphins in your dog that calms and comforts them. For you however, it can feel claustrophobic; if you’d prefer them to stop, ignore them and walk into another room. They’ll soon realise that licking causes you to leave, which is the last thing they want!
- Attention – your dog wants you to notice them, feel your love and show it back
- We taste good – dogs enjoy the salt on our skin and can also pick up tiny food particles
- To gauge our mood – while we’re talking flavour, dogs have highly sensitive sense receptors in their mouths that they use to gather information about their environment. Licking your sweat may be an attempt to “taste” your mood. Our sweat and sebaceous glands (near the hair follicle) secrete a cocktail of salts and waste products that enable dogs to detect our mood or simply where we’ve been that day
- Communication – dogs lick other dogs to send all kinds of messages, from “I submit to you” to “let’s be friends”. Likewise, with people, though interpreting is harder for us. If your pooch is licking you intensely, scan the room to ensure nothing is amiss like an empty water bowl or a closed door. They may need a drink or the toilet
- It’s soothing – if your pooch is feeling stressed, licking you (especially your feet) can help
- Showing submission – again, licking your feet is a sign that your pet acknowledges the social order of your home, with you as master
- Anxiety – excessively licking the same area of their body may signify that your pet is scared or nervous. However, this compulsive tendency may aggravate the anxious feeling
- Grooming – dogs may not always seem concerned about hygiene, but they do like to keep themselves clean. Keep a close eye though, because excessive cleaning in the anal area signals that their glands need to be expressed
- Healing – dog saliva contains enzymes that can kill bacteria and remove dead tissue. The risk of licking a healing wound however, is that it’ll re-open, inviting infection and a sore feeling
…Eat grass and rocks?
Our expert, veterinarian Henry Dove, offers insight into this unusual habit:
“This is called Pica, a condition also seen in humans when there is a desire to eat non-food objects. This could be caused by boredom, pain or possible nutritional deficiencies. Great care must be taken with dogs eating stones, as these can not only damage teeth but also cause serious problems with the digestive system. Both grass and stones can cause blockages in the intestines which will sometimes need major surgery to correct, so care must be taken if your dog is prone to eating both grass and stones.”
…Stare at me?
If you’re wondering why those puppy dog eyes won’t leave you alone, they may want the following:
- A delicious snack
- Exercise – whether it’s a game of fetch or a good walk
- Praise or direction. Dogs can look closely to detect emotion in our facial expressions
There isn’t always a motive behind staring. If you’re training your dog, encourage them to stare while awaiting your cues. This reciprocal gazing is encouraged within the context of a healthy dog-human relationship unaffected by aggression; otherwise, an uncomfortable dog may perceive this as a challenge or stand-off.
…Put their paw on me?
- Attention – you might respond by offering a tummy rub or patting their head. When you stop, they’ll paw again, wanting further petting– and so goes the cycle. Be mindful of how often you give into these pawing demands, before it becomes an annoying habit
- To initiate play – you may also witness your pet pawing other dogs. If their fellow canine reciprocates, they have agreed to play
…Rip apart squeaky toys?
As domestic dogs are descended from wolves, playing with (and ripping apart) squeaky toys satisfies their natural hunting instincts. When a wolf captures small animals in the wild, it vigorously shakes it – with small animals making squeaking noises in the process. While seeming savage to us, this sensory experience of playing with a squeaky toy may appeal to your pet because it’s akin to hunting and killing prey. Many dogs will dive in for the squeaker before tiring of a toy, while others enjoy pulling the stuffing out and proudly spreading it around.
Again, it all comes down to primal ancestry. If your dog howls, this may be why:
- In response to an environmental trigger – noises like a siren, musical instrument or singing can sound strikingly like a fellow dog (or wolf) howl
- To say “I’m here!” – in the wild, dogs send out vocal beacons to help members of their pack find their way back. Your pup may be feeling stressed, anxious or simply want to play with you or another dog – and a hearty howl is sure to grab attention
- In pain – just as people cry, dogs may howl if they are hurt
- In pursuit – if your dog is chasing a smaller animal, instinct might tell them to send a signal far and wide
- Defending their territory – a howl can act as a warning, as your dog enforces their physical boundaries
…Roll in dung?
While it sounds disgusting, rolling in another animal’s waste is a natural and common behavior in dogs. ‘But why?’ you might be thinking. According to dog behaviourists:
- Those wolf instincts may drive a desire in your dog to mask their scent so they can better sneak up on ‘prey’. Or, contrastingly, camouflage their own odour in case larger predators are lurking
- It’s your furry friend’s way of communicating to ‘pack members’ where they’ve been and what they’ve been up to
- If you’ve recently bathed your dog – especially given the hot summer – they may not like the smell of perfumed shampoo
- It’s good fun! Rolling in reckless abandon on a walk can really brighten a dog’s day
…Do that with their tail?
An energetic wag of the tail is the sign of a happy pooch. But did you know that a tail can offer many clues about how a dog is feeling?
- Raised tail – a dog is feeling alert, excited or dominant
- Low tail – the more anxious or submissive your pet is feeling, the more tightly they will tuck their tail close to their body, If in pain, or exhausted from exercise, a dog may carry their tails lower than usual
- Neutral tail – they’re feeling relaxed. Dogs with curly tails, like pugs, unravel their tails when resting
- Tense tail – if held rigidly, your pet is alert and likely to react to his surroundings. If they feel agitated, their tail may ‘fluff up’ with fur standing on end
- Flicking back and forth – known as ‘flagging’, a threatened dog may be ready to attack so interfering is ill-advised
It’s important to remember that a ‘normal’ tail varies depending on the breed. Chow Chows naturally have high, curved tails, while whippets have a lower tail carriage. Crucially, your knowledge of your dog’s personality can help you understand if they are happy or sad, threatened or relaxed, in relation to their tail activity. However, there’s no guaranteed way of knowing exactly how your dog is feeling – tail movements must always be taken into consideration with the overall behaviour of a dog.
If your pet tends to tremble occasionally, or has started shivering, check out the below:
- Thermoregulation (temperature control) – when the body senses lowering temperature, it shivers to generate body heat. When a dog has a fever, their body’s thermostat resets to a higher temperature. As this drops back down to normal, shivering occurs to restore the new elevated temperature. If you’re worried, take their temperature – 100-102 degrees Fahrenheit is considered normal. If you sense a fever, seek veterinary attention
- Heightened emotion – whether it’s excitement, anxiety or fear, emotional responses can manifest physically as trembling. Always check the environment you’re in, in case something is causing your dog to feel anxious and remove the source of stress to see if the trembling subsides
- Pain – if your dog is experiencing trauma or physical pain, they may tremble. Be mindful that not all dogs tremble in response to pain – it’s one symptom that emerges in some
- Disease – trembling may signify various medical issues, like kidney failure, muscle diseases and neurological disorders, but always consult with a vet before fearing the worst
- Toxins – certain foods or substances, like chocolate, can be harmful to dogs. Trembling is an early neurological symptom
- Muscle weakness – common in older dogs, weakening muscles can cause trembling
If the trembling continues for 1-2 hours, seek veterinary advice. Symptoms like lethargy, loss of appetite, vomiting and diarrhoea may indicate a health issue. The sooner this is addressed, the more likely your pet will return to their happy, healthy selves.
If you’re worried about your pet, don’t suffer in silence – especially when they can’t say how they’re feeling. You know your dog better than anyone and how their personality shapes how they respond to you, other people and certain situations. But remember, if your pet is displaying uncharacteristic habits and causing you concern, don’t be afraid to ask, ‘Why is my dog…?’
*The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian or other qualified pet health provider with any questions you may have regarding your pet’s health*